Makower: You make it sound like you're a lone voice in the industry working on recycling. What’s been your experience about your industry partners — your competitors — in building a recycling market and educating the public around sustainability as it relates to your product?
Jeffery: On the subject of extended producer responsibility — where we as an industry take the responsibility for the postconsumer handing of our materials — I don’t have any friends at all. I think some of the beverage companies would rather see that than a bottle bill, but they haven’t put their arm around me and said, “Kim, let’s go do this together.” It’s interesting to me because we live under extended producer responsibility laws in Europe, and all of the companies that sell their products in America also sell in Europe.
I could use a little help here. We put 20 billion dollar’s worth of recyclable material into landfills every day, and that’s not sustainable. We can make food-grade material out of recycled PET bottles today, and we need to be doing more of it. We have more demand for recycled PET than we have supply, which is why the price of recycled material is higher than virgin resin.
One of my goals is to figure out a way to get recycled content resin to the price of virgin resin. We need more recycled material coming into the stream in America to make this happen.
Makower: What would it take to do that?
Jeffery: We need to come together and figure out systemic ways to improve recycling in the United States. We have a broken system of recycling in America. Nobody is winning right now on this thing. We’re not moving the needle.
Makower: What does that look like from a policy perspective?
Jeffery: We started a website, Recycling Reinvented, a year ago. We provided the seed money for it. We have several members now and a board of directors that includes Bobby Kennedy.
We’re embarking on a study of the cost of extended producer responsibility. It’s the counterpoint to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. They’ve got their own study that says it costs $15 billion if [extended producer responsibility] went nationwide. They basically got a study that told them what they wanted to know, and we don’t think it’s accurate.
Makower: What should we expect to see next?
Jeffery: We’re talking to several states right now. I don't want to tell you who. We’ve done a lot of outreach work with NGOs, foundations, people who are interested in this. We’ve gone into the lion’s den and talked to several companies on this. Once they learn about the way we’re proposing it, they’re more neutral about it.
The goal would be to have a law passed in one state at least in the next couple of years where we could take a look at an extended producer responsibility system that would allow us all to determine whether this is a good idea or a bad idea.
Makower: So it sounds, postretirement, that you're going from the frying pan into the fire.
Jeffery: Well, I don't know if it’s the fire, but I would say this — that I’ve invested enough in it, over the last couple of years, that I’m going to stay with it. I’ve got lots of things to do in my retirement.